NFL Black Swan Event – Part 1

Google defines a black swan event as “an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences.”

In December of 2014 I experienced a drastic change in me that has led to creating this website. A change inclusive of reactions to personal events which fuels the necessity to share my experiences here, on the Positive Spin. At the time, I invested almost 10 years of my life working with the NFL. Yes, the National Football League, one of the most powerful, popular and successful business entities in the world. When I told people who I worked for, they reacted like I was a player they admired. My daughters have shared similar reactions from their friends.

Of course, I was never an NFL player contracted for millions with incentives. Nope. I was an IT Enterprise Systems Engineer; basically an IT guy working hard to make a living while taking care of my family. And it just so happens that a notable player’s personal conduct that year initiated a series of business decisions that has changed my fate. His name was Ray Rice and the series of events began with the NFL’s corporate response to his fateful mistake.

My employment with the NFL produced some pretty awesome times, but those stories are for another time and day.

You might be wondering how someone I never met could change my life? Well, the NFL’s response led to producing a swift, mandatory social responsibility training for everyone in the company. The first annual training session covered the sensitive topics of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence. I, Carlos Cruz, am a survivor of those 3 troubling areas of abuse. What I’ve learned shows that the League was not prepared to respond with company-wide training at the time, despite what was said, because the training and existing NFL culture caused me to have PTSD. And since then, I’ve only grown in concern for my health, my safety and my family’s well-being.

I became servile to invasive thoughts, feelings and emotions as they worsened from evoked emotional flashbacks.

During the training I became vulnerable, fearful and uncomfortable. Going forward, I began experiencing problems with time. I didn’t know the month or day of the week, making it difficult to complete basic tasks and honor commitments. My patience grew thin, nightmares tormented me and I experienced outbursts of anger. There was no change in personal outlook. I became servile to invasive thoughts, feelings and emotions as they worsened from evoked emotional flashbacks. My performance degraded and relationships suffered. One day in February of 2017 I unloaded uncontrollably to my boss. I was an emotional wreck and shared insight and personal history of the deepest parts of my self; personal events I have yet to share with close friends or family.

The complexity and intensity of my symptoms blinded me from recognizing I was coerced into isolation.

By April of 2017 it was determined I needed dedicated therapy to help understand what I was experiencing. I decided to participate in NFL medical leave to treat it. I met with doctors and participated in a men’s trauma program. The long journey to recover came with several setbacks along the way.

Soon after participating in NFL medical leave, I began to notice that I was being treated differently. The complexity and intensity of my symptoms blinded me from recognizing I was coerced into isolation. Transitioning from short-term disability to long-term disability (LTD) was an experience in itself.

After providing all the necessary information and documents, the NFL’s LTD insurance carrier deliberately delayed approval. That experience set me back in many ways. It was very traumatizing and went on for months. They made a point to tell me that LTD had nothing to do with my job. No matter how much I complied, they didn’t seem to care about the regression to my recovery it was causing. Approval became a growing obstacle. 

While participating in medical leave, I didn’t hear from anyone on my management team, including key people I once knew comfortably in NFL HR. This was stressful and concerning to me.

Communication and participation, leading up to and during NFL medical leave, was intensely emotional for me. I imagined myself supported, denying my sense of self when it all felt otherwise. During my absence I continued to update the NFL, who also maintained the right to inquire about the status of my recovery. I asked things like: how long my job would be protected for and what resources would be available to help with my successful return?

Although I was being treated noticeably different while participating in NFL medical leave, I remained focused on rehabilitation; I remained deeply hopeful despite the setbacks. It was imperative that I returned with my PTSD symptoms in a manageable state. My boss and I were both adamant about this. However, the more I learned about what triggered it all, the more anxious I felt. Regardless I was, and have been, willing to contribute and share the information.

In early June of the following year I received an official letter from NFL HR requesting an update. It included a job description for a different role in the NFL IT department. By that time I hadn’t spoken with anyone administratively responsible for my employment status and I was generally aware of more department and leadership changes. This prompted interest in asking about the ability to transfer from the IT department.

I felt anxious and excited because the letter confirmed I was still an NFL employee. Personal progress helped me consider the NFL’s letter pragmatically. At the time I was becoming acquainted with a new form of treatment that began showing promising results to manage my PTSD. My treatment plan required a few more months of therapy, so I notified the NFL of my PTSD diagnosis and requested a reasonable extension to medical leave. I sent the letter end of day on June 20th, 2018. I expected and hoped my request would finally produce NFL dialogue regarding my return to work, something non-existent while participating in LTD.

It feels like psychological rape.

After approximately 40 days, on the evening of Friday, August 3rd, 2018, I received an update from the NFL. They decided to let me go. It was both abrupt and effective immediately.

No one ever called to speak with me about the immediate risk to my job or to inform me that requesting an extension severs my employment and affordable healthcare costs. After more than a week, and after having not received the overnight mail indicated, I reached out to ask if there was a mistake.

According to the NFL, there was none.

I feel personally disturbed and very uneasy about this.

This was another setback that right away produced a negative impact: a severe regression to my recovery and rehabilitation. There hasn’t been a moment of time when the NFL has not been at the forefront of some part of my life since applying for the job in spring of 2005. Now the thoughts are invasive and intrusive. It feels like psychological rape.

It’s been debilitating trying to move on from the aftereffects. I loved my job, grew to love the NFL and still care strongly for many people there. After some careful consideration, I looked into the validity of my thoughts, feelings and opinions because I still have a recovery to make and a family to provide for. I identified mistakes that were made and I decided to notify them while requesting help.

Fortunately, Roger Goodell and leadership at the National Football League recognizes the importance of equality, social justice and social responsibility, right?

I got to work and began writing a letter, providing testimony and background to the situation. Using the Commissioner’s private email address, I sent an email, followed by paper copies, to Roger Goodell, his administrative assistant, my supervisors, NFL HR and NFL Compliance Officers; including others identified as responsible or capable of understanding our circumstances. I pointed things out without identifying anyone specifically. The letter acknowledged challenges within the NFL’s support system and this was a unique opportunity to have dialogue; to participate in a constructive change of narrative; to produce a positive outcome.

up next: the NFL letter, as sent